TOWSON, Md. — Perhaps more than any other team at Goucher this year, the volleyball squad will enter 2014 with a dramatically different look.
New head coach Kelli Wilkinson steps in to replace Michael Bossom after eight seasons at the helm, and three key seniors from 2013 (Megan Chalk, Addie Lanzarotta and Tori Rain) are gone as well. Despite the large number of new faces, Wilkinson still believes this team has a lot it can accomplish, and the Gophers will get their first chance to prove themselves at the Eastern Mennonite Invitational this weekend.
"I think there's a lot of potential," Wilkinson said. "If everyone stays healthy, we should be able to compete within the conference."
Four freshmen join the squad this year, with both Kelly Budge (Harrington Park, N.J./Northern Valley Old Tappan) and Erika DiPasquale (Paramus, N.J./Paramus) expected to jump right into the starting lineup. They will supplement a returning class of five juniors, including team captains Hannah Kuehl (Plymouth, N.H./Plymouth Regional) and Michelle Tweedie (Accra, Ghana/Lincoln Community School), and one sophomore. Sarah Johnson (Ridgewood, N.J./Ridgewood) and Corinne Kahler (York, Pa./York Country Day), who both appeared regularly in last fall's starting lineup, are among the returners as well.
"We're a little low on numbers, and one of my main priorities coming in will be to step up our recruiting efforts," Wilkinson said. "The good thing is we have no seniors, so I'll be able to help develop all of these girls for a minimum of two years."
After four matches in Eastern Mennonite this weekend, beginning with tilts against Hood and the hosting Royals on Friday, Goucher face off against Rowan in its home opener next Wednesday night. Home dates will be few and far between this year, though, with only eight of the Gophers' 31 matchups scheduled to take place at the Decker Sports & Recreation Center in 2014.
"That's definitely a challenge," Wilkinson remarked. "But it's a challenge that we're ready to take on, and hopefully next year some of those teams will come to us and we'll be able to even things out a bit."
Goucher's first Landmark match takes place at Catholic on Sept. 23. The Cardinals eliminated the Gophers in the quarterfinal round of the Landmark's postseason tournament last year after Goucher had swept past Merchant Marine in an opening round match.
The Gophers went winless in their five regular season conference matchups last year (they did not face Merchant Marine until the postseason due to the federal government's shutdown), but they managed to take at least one set in three of those tilts, and Wilkinson hopes to use that as motivation for the upcoming season.
"It's a little bit different this year with only the top four teams making the conference playoffs," she said. "That's definitely one of our team goals. Hopefully we can take some of those four or five-set losses and turn them into victories.
"I've been impressed with what I've seen from the girls this preseason," she concluded. "I'm looking forward to them adjusting to my coaching style. It should be an interesting year."